The closer I get to 30, the less I feel I know about myself. There was a point in life where I thought I knew everything. Back then, things were as simple as they were self-explanatory. But now, each year of life brings more questions than answers.
One of the most loaded questions I’ve had these days revolves around my sexuality.
I’m married to a cis man and we have multiple children. I love him and I’m deeply attracted to him. But I’m also attracted to women (both trans and cis) and trans men too. In other words, neither orientation nor gender identity is a turn-off to me. I’m sexually fluid.
A few years ago, I started to secretly refer to myself as bi. It was technically true and easier to explain than the complex set of thoughts in my head. However, it still didn’t seem to make sense considering that I could go months without finding a woman attractive. Not to mention the periods of time when I was attracted to no one.
Heteroflexible seemed to work, but it also felt like it contributed to the bi-erasure that I very much hate. And pansexual felt a little too cliché and modern when so many other descriptors already existed.
What’s the label for a woman who’s married to a man, has had multiple emotionally intimate and occasionally sexually explicit convos with other women, but whose only sexual encounter with a woman involved abuse? (Around the age of seven, I was molested and made to do sexual acts by another young relative.)
It’s impossible not to wonder who I’d be if I’d been able to step into my sexual interests on my own terms. Would I feel less shame about the things I think and feel? Would it be easier to put my life experiences into words? Or something even more terrifying to consider, could I have ended up married to someone other than a cis man if stigma and shame weren’t weighing down my authentic expression?
I’ll never know.
From time to time, I think about the best way to explain my complicated identity, as sexually fluid, to my children. Perhaps my transparency would make them understand that you don’t have to choose one or the other in a system that uplifts the orientation binary. But I also fear that it would be too much information considering the only relationship they will hopefully ever see me in is with their father.
Thankfully, my husband doesn’t have a history of childhood sexual abuse. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to exist in limbo. When we’ve talked about my sexuality in the past, it seemed pretty simple to him. I’m bisexual but monogamous. For him, nothing else matters. He sees my feelings as an opportunity to explore group sex, but I’ve told him that I’m not there yet. And he respects that.
Again I wonder, are the details suddenly unnecessary if they only play out in a sexual context?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve shed the orientation descriptors and found comfort in “queerness,” a more broad title that simply points out a deviation from the norm. Yet not “presenting as queer” — or whatever the hell that means — forces me to claim the identity in secret. I don’t know if I have permission to use the language as a woman who’s in a monogamous relationship with a man and who is benefiting from a great deal of straight passing privilege.
I only say it aloud to my two closest friends. But I know queerness is as close as I will ever get to a holistic description. I’m hoping that someday soon I’ll have the space to own that title openly and proudly.
Life on the outskirts of sexual identity is particularly hard to navigate during times like Pride Month. I want a community who understands me more than anything. But outing myself to those I love, particularly my family of origin, is enough to make me restrain myself in the furthest depths of the closet.
So instead of speaking for myself, I associate with those living freely. I “love” their statuses and images that depict them living their truth. On occasion, I talk with my husband about some of the things I wish I could do but would never have the confidence to follow through with. And I take small breaths of authenticity when I find people who are safe enough to understand.
Maybe one day, my husband and I will open our relationship and start walking the path of non-monogamy. It has as many obvious benefits as it does obvious setbacks. I’m not sure if I’m secure enough in myself – or in our relationship – to take that huge of a leap. But knowing I have a partner who’s supportive enough to leave that door open and loves me for me helps a little.
I still don’t know what label I’m supposed to fit under. Most often, I’m everything and nothing embodied all at once. I’m not confused about the way my heart flutters and my body tingles at a wide range of people regardless of gender or orientation. But I am perplexed at where people like me belong in a world that expects you to be as specific about everything as possible, in a world that see things in labels and definitions.
But each day, I’m learning to care a little less about the external pressure.
I am who I am. I like who I like. And more than anything else, I guess the most applicable label is “me.”
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